Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 13, 2016

Tips and Tricks for Writing Horror

The winner of THE TREES CREPT IN by Dawn Kurtagich Book Giveaway is Write Knit Laura Hartman. Congratulations, Laura! Please send me your address to receive your book.

dawn K And The Trees Crept In


The first thing to do when writing a horror is to decide what kind of horror you’re telling.

  • A situation story? (Characters are dropped into a difficult situation and need to figure their way out)
  • Descend into madness? (A character or situation that simply gets worse and worse, and the draw is to witness the final collapse)
  • A haunting? (family legacies, curses, paranormal happenings, etc)
  • An object story? (creepy doll, board, clock, box, etc)
  • A Pandora’s box story? (Characters meddle in something that was not meant for them and have to face the consequences)
  • Slasher (Any stalker, obsessive, kidnapping or criminal story with violence or gore)
  • Isolation story? (Character(s) is isolated and another element is then introduced, whether real or imaginary)
  • The mystery/quest horror? (A journey must be undertaken or a mystery solved in order to prevent some terrible event or consequence)
  • A marvelous concoction from the warped depths of your mind that I would love to read

Once you know what kind of tale you are weaving for poor hapless mortals out there, you need to decide who is going to tell that fabulous tale. Who is going to be the voice for this journey? There are so many options open for horror. First: Is your narrator reliable? If not, then you need their true story and their twisted version as well. If they are reliable, then what is their purpose? Are they the innocent soul that gets corrupted? Are they the cocky know-it-all that is put in their place? Are knowledgeable and scientific, only to have their mental or faith boundaries tested? Think about the effect you want to create.

Decide on the motivations of your characters, internal and external, their values and beliefs; think about their secrets, their fears and their flaws. A deep knowledge of your characters will bring the flesh to your tale.

Next, setting. This one sort of comes hand in hand with the kind of tale and character you choose. Clearly, you wouldn’t write a quest story set in a bungalow in Sussex with a character who never leaves the house and has unshakable nerves. But what about a character with unshakable nerves (or so he believes), invited to a castle with six strangers and then locked inside, with a mysterious puzzle to solve before the walls begin closing in?

Once you have these three elements, you can get into the planning stage. I advise using the Three-Act, 8 Sequence method for planning out a horror. Randy Igermanson of The Snowflake Method, refers to the Three- Act- Climax structure as the “The Disaster Structure”, and I haven’t seen it put better anywhere else. Instead of thinking about your climaxes and reveals as they would be in the 8-Sequence Structure, think about those climaxes as disasters instead.

Rather than thinking about a fitting climax for the end of Act 1, why not think about the most disastrous thing that might happen at that point? What would set your character back? Use that. Think of the disasters and use them as beat points around which you can mount tension, plant red herrings and begin your ticking clock.

It is important to hold onto your fear while writing. Remember the things that scare you. Think about why they scare you. Make lists of scary objects and situations—the dark, wasps, mirrors, shadows, dolls—and break down what it is that scares you about them. When you know why, play with those elements. Watch horror movies and try to write the scenes to learn how to scare a reader rather than a viewer. Think about the words you choose—‘murky’ might be better than ‘dark’. ‘Stygian’ might be better than ‘murky’. Work carefully.

With horror, the mundane can be sinister. If the weather is mucky and wet, why not hint that “the mire, so thick and pasty that it seemed as though the hands of the dead below might reach up and drag us downwards into their hell”? Play with metaphors and images. Even the simplest sentence can be sinister. Horror is about atmosphere as much as it is about characters and plot.

Depending on the type of horror you are writing, it is always useful to remember the following:

  • Keep emotional tension high.
  • Allow moments of respite that allow your readers to recover, and then hit them again, harder.
  • Keep your action intense and your stakes high
  • Use repetition to lay down clues and symbols
  • Don’t reveal everything that your characters are thinking
  • Remember handy literary devices like the ticking clock
  • Use strong imagery
  • Don’t be afraid to go too dark.

A final tip in the land of horror: Don’t be afraid to get afraid. And definitely keep a writing journal. Keep it with you, especially at night. Record nightmares, interesting elements from horror movies, horror books, and every day life. Let your imagination be the living creeper vine that connects the elements together.

But above all, use what works for you and trash the rest. Trust your instincts and find the path that works best for you.

Thanks for reading! Dawn


Dawn Kurtagich is a writer of creepy, spooky and psychologically sinister YA fiction, where girls may descend into madness, boys may see monsters in men, and grown-ups may have something to hide.

Click here to order on Amazon.

Thank you Dawn for sharing your expertise with us and giving us a chance to win a copy of your book.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. What great advice thanks Dawn, I definitely want to read your book! Thanks Kathy for sharing Dawn with us!


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